The Mission: Promoting a Diverse Gut Profile in Kids

One of the toughest parts about raising kids is learning how to interpret their natural forms of speech and discourse before they find the words to express themselves that adults understand.

“I’m tired” can mean a million things – from “I’m sleepy because I had nightmares last night” to “Someone hurt my feelings and I’d like to stop playing this game.”

“I don’t want to” might mean just that, but what if it means “I’m afraid I’ll look silly” or “I don’t feel safe here”?

“My tummy hurts” could mean anything from “I ate too much candy and now I feel sick” to “I’m nervous” to “Something is really wrong here.”

The gut, especially, can tell us all sorts of things about our health because of its omnipresent reach. The microbiome has a huge impact on everything from physical health to behavioral disorders to sleep patterns.

When we’re born, our gut microbiomes are very similar to our mothers – even more so if we travel through the birth canal in a vaginal birth. Several factors determine the diversity of our bacterial profiles in infancy – ranging from the type of milk we drink, to the air quality of our environments, or our level of physical activity. 

However, a lot of people don’t know that at about age two, a child’s microbiome looks very similar to an adults. At around the age of five, the window starts to close and the microbiome begins to lose flexibility. 

That means that however it’s balanced around the time will likely become its default setting, and much harder to shift in adolescence and adulthood. 

Behavioral Implications

We know that the types and amounts of bacteria in the microbiome can affect your serotonin production, depression, anxiety, and ability to focus as an adult.

It turns out that they do the same thing in children!

When the bacteria in the microbiome is diverse, it is balanced. That means that while there is harmful bacteria, there is also positive bacteria, which keeps the harmful bacteria in check. Everything in nature has its place, right?

Well, when the biome is out of balance, certain things happen – like the misregulation of the stress hormone, cortisol, typically managed by a balanced gut. 

Think about some of the behavioral patterns you’ve noticed in your child…

Are they frequently nervous? Shy? Do they lash out when asked to participate in something new, or something unfamiliar? Does talking it out always help them calm down, or does it seem like that’s not working?

One study worked with 77 toddlers and studied their microbiomes. Researchers found that children who were more curious, positive, extroverted, social, and impulsive had diverse microbiomes. 

Children with lower diversity (and often more harmful bacteria than good) were more fearful, clingy, and less spontaneous. 

More work is needed to come to definite conclusions… but it certainly holds up that if we as adults have moods affected by our bacteria, our children would too.

So how can you help? Especially during the more critical period from ages two to six…

Try These Tips

Introduce fermented foods and probiotic rich foods early into their diets. Kids will often reject the unfamiliar, so try and introduce things like yoghurt, sauerkraut, homemade fermented pickles, or even kombucha early on! 

Get those prebiotic sources too – indigestible fibers, found in high concentrations in bananas, oats, honey, asparagus, jicama, and Jerusalem artichoke.

Focusing on diet early on can really help – no, not the “they can never have sweets” diet. The kind of diet where the kind of sweets they’re eating are natural. More fruits and berries, less fruit-and-berry-flavored-candies. More pure chocolate, less processed. More avocado oil and sea salt chips, less spicy cheetos. 

If possible, don’t leap to antibiotics unless an infection has been confirmed. Always consult your doctor, but tell them you’d like to avoid antibiotics where possible! Sometimes a fever will run itself out, and sometimes it’s more serious and requires medication. Antibiotics kill bacteria indiscriminately, whether they’re good or bad. 

If you need antibiotics, that’s okay! Just make sure you take extra care to repopulate the microbiome by feeding good bacteria and starving bad once you’re finished. You can also take a probiotic supplement during your course of antibiotics, just make sure to take them at least two hours apart. 

And don’t forget to allow kids directionless play. They need unhurried, unstructured play, because just like the microbiome affects cortisol…

You guessed it, cortisol affects the microbiome!

There is so much to think about when you’re raising a child – but they’ll thank you one day for showing them young what a natural love of pure vegetables, healthy probiotics, holistic healing, and stress-free play can do. 
If you’re interested in finding out more about how to influence your child’s gut health, among many other topics, you’ll likely enjoy our new course on Raising Healthy Kids. Check out the details here to see all the topics we cover.

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.